Huang Sunhong, head coach of the Hangzhou Asian Games men’s soccer team, is in good spirits. Lee Kang-in is still unlikely to join the team early.
With Lee’s participation in the group stage uncertain, it’s even more important to have a reliable offense.
On July 14, Hwang announced the final 23-man roster for the Asian Games. The roster included national and K League-level players such as Lee Kang-in, Baek Seung-ho, Park Jin-seop (Jeonbuk Hyundai), and Seol Young-woo (Ulsan Hyundai), but the selection of Lee Sang-min (Chungnam Asan), who was ineligible at the time, sparked controversy.
Kim Tae-hyun (Vegalta Sendai) was eventually named as Lee’s replacement, ending the controversy, and the Asian Games squad trained with the U-22 team in August. The squad should have been able to train with the full squad for a few days before the tournament in September, but due to the delayed arrival of overseas players and several players being called up to the national team, the squad was not fully formed.
The key is Lee Kang-in. Lee first worked with Hwang at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in the summer of 2022. Hwang used Lee to help his side win the tournament, but they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Japan in a shocking 0-3 defeat.
Since then, Lee has made a major statistical leap in Mallorca. His physicality and speed, as well as his powerful left-footed kick, were on full display, and he enjoyed a career-high season in 2022/23, scoring six goals and providing six assists in 36 Spanish La Liga games. He’s a completely different player than he was a year ago.
Lee joined PSG in July as the first Asian player to play for the club, and while he remains in contention for a starting role, he has been a playmaker for PSG, spearheading the team’s attack. However, he was recently sidelined with a hamstring injury late last month.
This affected his national team as well as the Asian Games squad. Luckily, it’s not an injury that will put a strain on the men’s soccer schedule at the Asian Games, which begin on Sept. 19, but PSG doesn’t seem to be rushing Lee to the Asian Games, which are not a FIFA A-match.
Hwang hopes to get Lee back on board as soon as possible, but it’s too early to tell. It’s still unclear how PSG will release him.
Also, Hwang doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what he wants to do with Lee. This is because Hwang hasn’t seen the recent changes in Lee’s style.
“I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, so if I say (where he will be used), I have to keep my word, so it’s hard to say right now,” Hwang said, adding, “I’ve had a few interactions with the player, but there’s a difference between what he says and what he does on the training ground.”
The timing of Lee’s arrival is also unclear. “The team will finally give me an answer on the 13th,” Hwang said. When I contacted the player himself, he said that he has been training with the ball since this week and is probably focusing on preparing for the league game next weekend,” Hwang said.
“According to him, that seems to be the team’s plan right now. We want him to join us as soon as possible, so I think it’s something that (Lee) has to work out a little bit. I hope to join the team before the tournament. The way things are going, there’s a possibility that I could come in close to the first match of the tournament, so I’ll have to think about different situations and prepare. I’m starting to organize things in my head. Personally, I hope to join the team as soon as possible.” 스포츠토토
If the timing of Lee’s arrival is unclear, it’s not clear if he will be available for the first game of the group stage against Kuwait on Sept. 19. With the current squad, Lee has the task of building an attacking lineup.
There were concerns about the front line, especially compared to previous tournaments, when the roster was announced. Park Jae-yong (Jeonbuk), who was playing for Anyang when the roster was announced, and Ahn Jae-joon (Bucheon), who was playing in the second division, were among the strikers. Add to that the military service of Cho Young-wook (Gimcheon Commerce), and you have a resource up front.
“We’ll keep the basic concept,” Hwang said, “but we understand the concerns about the strikers. Cho Young-wook is also up front for his club. Ahn Jae-jun’s form is improving. Park Jae-yong is not participating in the team,” he said, adding, “I’m looking at his condition. Cho Young-wook is in good shape.”
Cho Young-wook recently improved his scoring over the summer. Even though it’s only K League 2, he’s tearing up the league with 11 goals and four assists in 15 games from June through September. Over 80% of his 13 goals have come since the summer.
Cho Young-wook is first and foremost a veteran of the age-group national team. Heading into the Asian Games, which will be his last for the national team, he has 34 goals in 78 games for the U-14, U-20, and U-23 national teams.
In addition to Cho Young-wook, we’ll also be looking to our domestic striker, Uhm Won-sang, who has four goals and three assists in 23 games for Ulsan this season. Whenever he is on the field, he plays with great speed and determination. He’s often injured, but when he’s on, he’s a dangerous winger.
Uhm Won-sang was a member of the 2019 U-20 World Cup runners-up alongside Cho Young-wook. He also appeared at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where he helped Korea reach the quarterfinals. He was first called up by Hwang for the first leg against China in June and scored a multi-goal performance in the 3-1 win. However, he was subbed off in the second game due to injury.
In the end, Hwang’s attacking lineup is comprised of two players who are already thriving in their respective age-group national teams and clubs. Until Lee Kang-in arrives, they will be tasked with leading the offense and helping the team advance in the tournament.